Ridge Ave Roxborough Historic District

Early 19th Century


Despite the explosive growth in  Manayunk in the first half of the nineteenth century, Roxborough remained during these decades a linear village along Ridge Road with an  economy based largely on agriculture and milling. However, many  Roxborough farms were diversifying, supplementing their incomes with  stone quarrying, lumbering, and other commercial activities. Real estate advertisements offer a window into activities in Roxborough. In 1836, a  40-acre property near the six-mile stone on Ridge Road was offered for  sale. It included a three-story stone house, a stone barn with stabling  for four horses and 12 cows, a grain house, cart house, poultry house,  hog house, corn house, two apple orchards, and a “kitchen garden, well  set with Strawberries, Raspberries, &c. [from which] 170 quarts have  been picked in one day.” The property included several acres of timber  and “quarries of excellent turnpike stone.”66 In 1839, “a valuable small  farm,” a 57.5-acre property on “the Philadelphia and Norristown  turnpike road” at the western edge of Roxborough Township, was offered  for sale. It included a stone dwelling, “a good large barn with stabling sufficient for eight cows and four horses,” an apple orchard, three  springs, and land “in a good state of cultivation and all under good  fence.” The property also included “3 acres of good young thriving timber” and “a good Stone Shop, formerly occupied as a Weaver Shop.”67  Also in 1839, a 33-acre farm, “situate on the Ridge Turnpike Road, in  Roxborough township, nearly opposite the Sorrel Horse Tavern,” was  offered at public sale. The advertisement declared that the “land is in a  good state of cultivation and has a body of valuable timber.”68 Hinting  at changes, an 1844 advertisement offered a 22-acre farm in Roxborough  Township “on a public road leading from Ridge pike to Flat Rock Bridge  and Manayunk,” that, in addition to the usual stone house, barn, and spring house, included “a stream of water running through the Farm,  sufficient for steam machinery.”69


At about the same time that the  farm was advertised with a water source sufficient for steam machinery,  omnibus lines connecting Roxborough and the City of Philadelphia with  reliable, relatively inexpensive, daily transportation were initiated.70 A line was established in 1840 with omnibus service every day but  Sunday leaving Amy’s Hotel in Roxborough at 8:30 a.m. and returning to  Roxborough from the Black Bear Inn on S. 5th Street near Market Street  at 3:30 p.m. The fare was 20 cents (Figure 26).71 A line was established in 1842 with omnibus service leaving the Sorrel  Horse Inn in Roxborough for the City of Philadelphia via Wissahickon,  Falls of Schuylkill, and Laurel Hill at 6:30 a.m. and returning to  Roxborough from the Merchants’ Exchange at 3rd and Walnut Streets at 1:45 p.m. The fare to Roxborough was 25 cents.72 While the first of the two omnibus lines was named the Farmers’ Line,  its primary customers would not have been farmers, who carted their  fruits, vegetables, and meats to market in wagons. Instead, the riders  would have been a new breed of Roxborough residents who had frequent and  sometimes daily business in the city. While the Philadelphia,  Germantown & Norristown Railroad had facilitated commuting from  Manayunk and the lowest reaches of Ridge Road to the City of  Philadelphia as early as the mid 1830s, the omnibus lines of the early  1840s opened up all of Roxborough to commuting.73


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The introduction of the omnibus  lines on Ridge Road in the early 1840s indicated that Roxborough, which  had been a farming and milling community for nearly 150 years, was  transitioning. As early as 1839, the beginnings of suburbanization were  evident in Roxborough. That year, Charles Jones and T. Mason Mitchell  advertised development lots for sale on Green Lane, just off Ridge Road,  that were measured in square feet, not acres. The 50-foot wide lots,  which were between 150 and 250 feet deep, were promoted as having  attractive views, a healthful environment, convenient to the railroad  and turnpike, and in the proximity of several churches and the Village  of Manayunk. The advertisement promised: “The Lots will, when built  upon, be sufficiently large for handsome gardens attached to each. This,  on viewing the neighborhood, will prove a desirable and safe investment  to many persons, either for summer or permanent residences.”74 The advertisement made no mention of barns, meadows, fruit trees,  spring houses, or other farm accoutrements. The development lots on  Green Lane were intended for commuters, who walked to Manayunk or took  the train or omnibus to the city. They may have been the first suburban  housing lots laid out in Roxborough Township.


Although the omnibus lines and  suburban house lots portended changes coming to Roxborough, Charles  Ellet’s Map of the County of Philadelphia from Actual Survey of 1843  indicates that Roxborough remained a linear village running along Ridge  Road (Figure 27). The map clearly shows that, outside of  densely developed Manayunk, Roxborough Township was sparsely populated  with few roads running east and west off the main spine. The Ellet map  of 1843 identifies the main commercial and institutional sites in  Roxborough. It depicts four inns, all on Ridge Road: the Leverington  Hotel near Green Lane, Roxborough Hotel at Gorgas Lane, Buttonwood  Tavern at Livezey’s Mill Lane, and Sorrel Horse Tavern above Ship Lane. The 1843 map depicts three manufacturing facilities associated with the  textile industry: the Gorgas Cotton Factory on Gorgas Lane at the  Wissahickon Creek; Haley's Dye Works on Gorgas Lane; and Rees' Print  Works on Eliza's Lane. The map calls out five mills along or near the  Wissahickon: Wise’s Mill and Livezey’s Mill on the upper Wissahickon; a  spice mill and the Rittenhouse Paper Mill at the confluence of the  Wissahickon with Paper Mill Run; and Robinson's (misspelling of  Robeson’s) Mill on the Wissahickon at the crossing of the Ridge Road.  The map notes the Roxborough Poorhouse in the Old Plow Tavern on Ridge  Road below Shur's Lane. It calls out the Baptist Church as well as the  German Reformed Church at Ship Lane. The German or Dutch Reformed Church  was founded in 1835 and transitioned to the Roxborough Presbyterian  Church in 1854. The map identified a schoolhouse at the intersection of  Wise’s Mill Road and Livezey’s Mill Lane. The school, known as the Heiss  or Yellow School House, was established in 1812. The map called out the  hall of the Roxborough Masonic Lodge, No. 135, located on Ridge Road at  Shur's Lane. The fraternal organization had been founded in 1813.75 An  1851 inventory of tax-exempt property in Philadelphia County listed all  such properties in Roxborough, again portraying the rural area as  sparsely populated. The 1851 inventory included the Roxborough Baptist  Church and Burial Ground, Dutch Reformed Burial Ground, Lutheran Church,  a volunteer fire brigade called the Good Intent Engine Company, the  poorhouse or almshouse, three schoolhouses, and two tollhouses  associated with the Ridge Road Turnpike.76


Like Ellet’s map of 1843, John  Levering’s Plan of the Township of Roxborough of 1848 depicts Roxborough  as a linear village along Ridge Avenue, but also shows the very  beginnings of suburban development along Green Lane as well as High  Street (Lyceum Avenue).77 Houses on  relatively small lots on a grid of streets first appear in Roxborough on  the 1848 map. Suburban development was occurring along Ridge Avenue as  well, especially in the lower section near the Wissahickon railroad  station and other transportation options. For example, in 1850, a real  estate advertisement offering a property at the corner of Ridge and  Hermit Lane (now 559 Righter Street) extolled its easy access to  transportation. “The situation is high and healthy, with a daily  communication to and from the city, by Stages passing the door, or by  Omnibuses connecting the Railroad at Wissahickon Railroad Bridge, and  half a mile therefrom, and within half a mile of the Manayunk Steamboat  Landing, affording an hourly conveyance to of from the city—thereby  making it a desirable private Country Residence, or for a man of  business, whose location is in the city.”78 While men of business may have commuted to Manayunk for managerial  positions in the mills as early as the early 1840s, by 1850, men of  business were living in Roxborough and commuting to the business center  in the heart of Philadelphia.


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As Roxborough began its  transition in the 1840s from a farming and milling community to a suburb  for the industrial area flourishing at nearby Manayunk, several  institutions were established to support the growing population. In  1841, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Roxborough Lodge, No. 66,  was established. The fraternal organization erected a hall at the  northwest corner of Ridge and Lyceum. The Roxborough Lyceum, an  educational organization that housed a consortium of libraries, was  chartered in 1854 and erected a building on Ridge across from the Odd  Fellows Hall in 1856. The Lyceum became the Roxborough Branch of the  Free Library of Philadelphia in 1896. The German Lutheran Church was  established in 1845 at Pechin and Martin Streets, on the boundary of  Manayunk and Roxborough. The current church at the site dates to 1902.  The Ridge Avenue Methodist Church was established in 1847. The first  Methodist services were held in Yellow School House, before a church  building was erected at Ridge and Shawmont. St. Timothy’s Episcopal  Church was established in 1859 and a large church complex on Ridge near  Shur's Lane was begun in 1862, when the sanctuary cornerstone was laid.  The Church was consecrated 1863 and a tower added in 1871. The church  was enlarged and a parish building constructed in 1874. The church was  enlarged again in 1885 (Figure 32). Farther to the north, St. Alban's  Episcopal Church was established in 1859 and a church building was  erected on Fairthorne, just off Ridge, in 1861.


In 1854, the City and County of  Philadelphia were consolidated, ending more than a century and a half  of independent government in Roxborough Township and incorporating the  emerging suburb into the City of Philadelphia. With the consolidation,  the newly annexed portions of Philadelphia were divided into wards.  Roxborough comprised part of the 21st Ward, which included Roxborough,  Manayunk, and Penn Township (East Falls and Allegheny West). In 1860,  the 21st Ward had a population of 17,159. Samuel Smedley’s Atlas of the  City of Philadelphia of 1862 shows that during the decade leading up to  the Civil War, Leverington had emerged as a neighborhood in its own  right within Roxborough, with twelve blocks of suburban development  bounded by Ridge, Krams, Manayunk, and Martin on the west side of Ridge  and more subdivision and construction along Leverington on the east  Ridge (Figure 28).79


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This information has been posted by RMWHS with the permission of the Philadelphia Historical Commission.


66 Public Ledger, 3 December 1836, p. 3.


67 Public Ledger, 19 January 1839, p. 4.


68 Public Ledger, 30 October 1839, p. 4.


69 Public Ledger, 24 December 1844, p. 4.


70  Stagecoaches had traveled Ridge Road since the eighteenth century. For  example, in 1834, a stagecoach line ran regular service between the City  of Philadelphia and Norristown, leaving the City at 3:00 p.m. daily and  arriving in Norristown “early the same evening,” and leaving Norristown  for the City at 7:00 a.m. An announcement of the line noted that  “Passengers will be taken up and set down in any part of Philadelphia or  Norristown.” Philadelphia As It Is (Philadelphia: P.J. Gray, 1834), p.  125.


71 Public Ledger, 14 November 1840, p. 3.


72 Public Ledger, 7 July 1842, p. 3.


73  Competing with the Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown Railroad  for commuters to Manayunk, J.W. Funck offered a combination rail and  boat service to Manayunk as early as 1848. He operated railroad  passenger cars from 3rd and Willow Streets to Fairmount, where  passengers connected with a steamboat to Laurel Hill and Manayunk. The  service ran at 8:30 and 10:00 a.m. and then every 30 minutes from 1:30  p.m. through the afternoon. See Public Ledger, 21 June 1848, p. 4.


74 Public Ledger, 24 April 1839, p. 1.


75  Horace H. Platten and William Lawton, The History of the Roxborough  Masonic Lodge, No. 135 (Philadelphia: The Centennial Committee of the  Roxborough Masonic Lodge, No. 135, 1913).


76  Elihud Tarr, Memorial of the Commissioners of the County of  Philadelphia to the Legislature upon the Subject of the Laws Exempting  Certain Property from Taxation, Together with a Schedule of Exempt  Property (Philadelphia: The County Commissioners, 1851).


77  John Levering, Plan of the Township of Roxborough with the property  holders' names &c. Manayunk, published by M. Dripps, 1848.


78 Public Ledger, 26 July 1850, p. 4.


79 Samuel L. Smedley, Atlas of the City of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1862).